Step 1: Get the necessary forms.
To start your case, you will need to fill out the necessary forms for a protective order.
You can find the forms from the civil clerk at the courthouse in the county/district where you live or where the abuser lives. You can find the address for the courthouse on our NH Courthouse Locations page. Some people choose to download the forms first and fill them out at home or with an advocate from a domestic violence organization or shelter. You will find links to forms online on the NH Download Court Forms page.
Most shelters and other domestic violence organizations can provide support for you while you fill out these papers and go to court. To find a shelter or an advocate at a local program, please visit the NH Advocates and Shelters page under the Places that Help tab at the top of this page.
Step 2: Carefully fill out the forms.
On the complaint, you will be the “plaintiff” and the abuser will be the “defendant.”
On the complaint, in the box provided for explaining why you want the order, write about the most recent incidents of violence, using specific language (slapping, hitting, grabbing, threatening, etc.) that fits your situation. Include details and dates, if possible. Clerks and magistrates can show you which blanks to fill in, but they cannot help you decide what to write.
If you are staying at a shelter, give a Post Office Box, not the street address. If you do not have a safe address, do not fill it out - ask the clerk first how you can keep your address confidential.
Note: Do not sign the forms until you are in front of a notary or a clerk. The clerk can usually notarize the forms for you. Be sure to bring photo ID for the notary.
Step 3: A judge or marital master will consider your petition.
The clerk will take your completed forms to a judge or master while you wait. The judge or master will look at your petition and decide if there is enough immediate danger to give you a temporary order. The judge or master may ask you some questions, or may decide based only on your petition. If the judge or master grants the order, you will get a copy of it from the clerk.
The judge will also set a hearing date for your final protective order.
Step 4: Service of process
The abuser must be “served” with your petition and the notice of the hearing date, along with your temporary protective order (if the judge or master gave you one). There is no charge to have the authorities (a peace officer or the sheriff’s department) serve the abuser.1
You can find more information about service of process in our Preparing for Court – By Yourself section, in the question called What is service of process and how do I accomplish it?
1 N.H. Rev. Stat. § 173-B:3(III)
Step 5: The final hearing
The judge will hold a hearing within 30 days of the date you filed your petition or within 10 days of when the defendant/abuser was served, whichever occurs later. The hearing can be extended for an additional 10 days upon the request of either party if there is good cause to do so.1
Note: New Hampshire law allows a judge to consider any evidence that the judge believes is relevant and important. Unlike other court hearings and trials, the judge is not bound by the technical rules of evidence in a protective order hearing.2
If you do not go to the hearing, your temporary order will expire (if you were granted one). If the abuser does not show up for the hearing, the judge may still grant you a protective order, or s/he may reschedule the hearing. If you cannot go to the hearing at the scheduled time, you may call the court to ask that your case be “continued,” but the judge may deny your request.
You may wish to hire a lawyer to help with your case, especially if the abuser has a lawyer. If the abuser shows up with a lawyer, you can ask the judge for a “continuance” (a later court date) so that you have time to find a lawyer. To find a lawyer or legal services program in your area, please visit our NH Finding a Lawyer page. You can also represent yourself in court. See our At the Hearing section under the Preparing for Court tab at the top of this page for ways you can show the judge that you were abused. You can learn more about the court system in our Preparing for Court – By Yourself section.
1 N.H. Rev. Stat. § 173-B:3(VII)(a),(b)
2 N.H. Rev. Stat. § 173-B:3(VIII)